Seattle-based AltaRock Energy, Inc. and Davenport Newberry Holdings LLC of Stamford, Connecticut, geothermal energy project developers, this summer plan to test the energy potential of the Newberrry Volcano, located about 20 miles south of Bend, Oregon.
The $43 million effort, funded in part by Google and a U.S. Department of Energy grant, will pump 24 million gallons of water into the dormant volcano in Central Oregon in the hope of generating steam that could ultimately power turbines to produce clean electricity.
The technique being used, called hydroshearing, is similar to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which is employed to free natural gas from shale formations. Like its chemical-reliant counterpart, the process is not without controversy. Experts have blamed fracking for earthquakes in Ohio, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma, and some fear hydroshearing could also lead to destructive quakes (a similar company project in Switzerland was shuttered on tremor concerns).
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management last month released an environmental assessment of the project that paved the way to proceed with testing, which it does not expect to cause any serious environmental consequences.
During the energy crisis of the 1970s—when public sentiment about energy took a decidedly clean shift—oil and gas companies pursued geothermal as a potentially valuable source of power before falling crude prices put a damper on research.
U.S. geothermal companies have been slow to develop the abundant pent-up resource, leaving vast reservoirs of heat trapped underground and the industry struggling to expand, taking its place alongside major renewable sources like solar, wind and hydro.
Image credit: Frank Kovalchek via Flickr
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